University News

Provost forum draws two grad students

At open forum, students share concerns about lack of graduate school focus, funding

Contributing Writer
Friday, February 21, 2014

Just two graduate students attended a forum Thursday to gather graduate student input on the University’s ongoing search for a successor to Provost Mark Schlissel P’15, who was named president of the University of Michigan last month.

President Christina Paxson, Sharon Krause, professor and chair of the political science department, and American studies doctoral student Crystal Ngo GS — all members of the search committee — moderated the forum, which only two graduate students attended.

Brigitte Harder GS, a first-year master’s student in computer science, asked Paxson to clarify what the job of provost entails.

“There’s this mystery about what does a provost do, anyways?” Paxson said. As chief academic officer, the provost is responsible for overseeing academic initiatives and running several committees, including the University Resources Committee. The provost brings the URC’s financial recommendations to the president, Paxson added.

French studies doctoral student Anne-Caroline Sieffert GS said it is important for the provost to understand that Brown is an interdisciplinary school.

“Over the past few years we’ve put social sciences and humanities to the side. Little departments like ours teach a lot of undergraduates but get shorn aside in funding,” said Sieffert, former vice president for representation and advocacy of the Graduate Student Council.

Paxson said graduate students in the social sciences and humanities cost the University more than those pursuing graduate degrees in the physical sciences, who may receive research funding from the federal government. But she added, “I think we need to pay attention to all of these groups. There’s not a one-size-fits-all policy for doctoral students (or) master’s students.”

Sieffert said she feels the graduate student population is underappreciated relative to undergraduates.

“There’s been a very vocal population of undergraduates, and some faculty members too,” that argue the costs associated with graduate students place too great a strain on the resources the University can commit to undergraduate education, she said.

Sieffert said many graduate students teach undergraduate courses in addition to conducting research, but she said none of the undergraduates in her classes realized she was a doctoral student until she told them. “We need a provost that can explain it’s not a zero-sum game,” she added.

“So you’re saying that graduate student education contributes to undergraduate education,” Ngo said. Sieffert nodded.

Paxson emphasized the strong relationship between faculty members and graduate students.

“A lot of the faculty we hire love working with our graduate students. If there weren’t graduate students, they wouldn’t come and teach undergraduates,” Paxson said.

Originally planned to last for an hour and a half, the forum ended after 30 minutes due to low attendance.

“We took comprehensive notes,” Krause said. “Everything will be shared with the (provost search) committee.”

  • Matt Lyddon GS

    Part of the reason for the low attendance here (in my experience based on several years’ active service in the GSC) is that lunch hours are notoriously difficult in terms of getting grad student attendance. Between lab responsibilities, the array of workshops and brown-bags organized within and between departments, and TA responsibilities (I was at a TA conference for one of the biggest classes on campus, for example), the 12-2pm period is already significantly committed for many of us.

    Clearly yesterday’s turnout was disappointing, but I’m aware of many grad students who have thoughts about the selection of Brown’s next Provost, and I’m sure the topic will attract some discussion at the next meeting of GSC on March 5, and further feedback to the Graduate Student rep on the search committee.

    Finally, while this article’s headline factually reflects what I understand was the case at yesterday’s forum, I would ask readers to remember, when comparing with the UCS discussion, that you’re comparing turnout at a regular student government council session, on the one hand, against an ad-hoc forum called during an extremely busy time-slot on the other. So please don’t mistake the headline for evidence of grad student apathy on this subject.